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21 November 2009

Black Hole Starships?

Do you ever get tired of science fiction stories using black holes to solve every imaginable problem? (I’m looking at you, new Star Trek.) Well, if so, you should not go take a look at my inaugural article for Universe Today, in which I report on a couple of physicists who calculated that a future civilization might be able to create black holes and then use them as powerplants to …


10 November 2009


In case you were wondering, the title of this post is the name of a short story by Arthur C Clarke in which solar sail-powered spaceships race each other around the moon. Ok, that’s cool, but why do I bring this up? Because the Planetary Society is going to be launching a solar sail spacecraft in about a year! An anonymous donor contributed enough money to jump-start the program. The …


7 October 2009

To the Moon! Zoom, Bang!

As I write this, there is a NASA spacecraft on an unstoppable collision course with the moon. Early on Friday morning it will impact a crater near the moon’s south pole at 9000 km/hr, causing an explosion that will excavate 350 tons of lunar rocks, blasting them up into space and leaving a 66 foot-wide crater. Of course, this is all intentional. The LCROSS mission will use the upper stage …


24 September 2009

Water on the Moon

In case you haven’t heard yet, there is quite the buzz building about three separate results that indicate that there is water on the lunar surface. There isn’t much: moon rocks returned by Apollo are pretty darn dry, but it’s still an exciting result, and it means that future missions might be able to extract water for drinking and rocket fuel. I was especially surprised to hear that the water …


9 September 2009

New Hubble Images

Four images taken with the brand-new camera on Hubble have just been released, and although there are no solar-system objects in the bunch, I can’t complain too much. I mean, just take a look at this! Enjoy!


17 July 2009

LRO Images of Apollo Landing Sites!

Just in time for the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) team have released images of the Apollo landing sites. These pictures show the lower half of the Lunar Module (LM), the scientific instruments left on the surface, and even the tracks where the astronauts walked! Awesome. Of course, the moon hoax believers will not be convinced by this photographic evidence that humans have walked …


8 June 2009

Big Picture: Mercury MESSENGER

If you’re not already following the Boston Globe’s Big Picture blog, you should be. They always have spectacular photos, often of current events, but also quite often of space-related stuff! Today’s post is about the MESSENGER mission to Mercury. Go check it out.


14 May 2009

The Problem with NASA TV

I have a problem with NASA TV: it’s boring! This has been a pet-peeve of mine for quite a while, but with all of the excitement about the current Hubble repair mission, I have been reminded just how bad NASA TV is. Think about it. Right now, as I write this, the astronauts are suiting up and preparing for a spacewalk to begin repairing the Hubble space telescope. They are …


9 May 2009

Review: Star Trek

Last night, I and my thirty closest friends (much of the Cornell astronomy department) visited the movie theater to watch the new Star Trek movie. The overall verdict: it was good! But of course, as huge nerds and astronomers, after the movie we spent a good twenty minutes standing in the halls of the theater blocking traffic and vigorously discussing all aspects of the movie. In general I liked it …


4 May 2009

We live in the future

I often say (or at least think to myself) that we live in the future. Especially when I’m traveling. It’s constantly amazing to me that I can get anywhere in the world in less than a day. I can make a routine trip out to California for a conference, when 150 years ago that would be the journey of a lifetime, and would involve diseases and caulking wagons to cross …


Fly me to the moon

My adviser Jim Bell has a guest post up over at the Planetary Society blog about the upcoming Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission. LRO will be able to take pictures of the lunar surface at 50 centimeters per pixel, and will return 20 Terabytes of data! That’s more than 100 times more data than any other planetary mission! So, go take a look at what Jim thinks that sort of data …


30 April 2009

Sexy NASA Jets

Remember a couple weeks ago when I posted about how cool it was to ride my bike to work past the two NASA jets in front of Johnson Space Center? Well, NASA just released an awesome photo of two of the same type of jets doing a flyby of the shuttle on the launch pad! A few years ago I got to visit Ellington Field in Texas, where these jets …


28 April 2009

Impact Crater

In my posts about our field trip to Arizona, I showed my best pictures of meteor crater, but really none of them come close to expressing the feeling of standing on the brink of such a feature and trying to imagine an explosion big enough to carve it out. I just came across a photo by Stan Gaz that does a much better job than my snapshots (click to follow …


21 April 2009

Cassini Questions Answered

I got a bunch of questions about the BigPicture feature on the Cassini extended mission from an “enthusiastic” commenter, with whom I happen to be related (Hi mom!), and I thought I would dedicate a post to answering them. 1. How does a Jovian equinox work? Start by reviewing how one on earth works. Well, the pictures are of Saturn, not Jupiter, but that doesn’t really matter since equinoxes work …


Big Picture: Cassini's Extended Mission

The Big Picture, the Boston Globe’s photojournalism blog, does it again! This week they have a spectacular set of images of Saturn and its sattellites from the Cassini extended mission. Well worth a look. I especially liked the images showing Saturn’s upper atmosphere acting like a lens, causing the rings to apparently bend as they approach the planet. Did you know that the Earth’s atmosphere does the same thing? Sunrise …


19 April 2009

Impressive Arecibo

Betsey over at the ALFALFA Survey Blog just posted about visiting Arecibo and how jaw-droppingly impressive the telescope is. Her pictures are spectacular, so you should go check them out! Here’s a teaser:


5 April 2009

Creepy Batteries

I saw two rather disturbing articles today about batteries. First: batteries that feed on blood. Apparently they are powered by a colony of specialized yeast that can consume blood for energy. Obviously this would be useful for things like pacemakers, assuming that the cyborg battery doesn’t infiltrate its host’s central nervous system, become sentient and then take over the world… Second: Virus-powered batteries. Apparently some researchers at MIT have used …


16 March 2009

More about LROC

I posted the other day about visiting the Lunar Reconaissance Orbiter Camera control room and being very impressed by the mission, the instrument, the control room and of course the folks running everything. Well, Dr. Sam Lawrence, a member of the LROC team, got wind of my post, and sent me some more great info! First of all is a nice virtual tour of the control center that also talks …


25 February 2009

A Tidally Locked Earth

A while ago, I posted about an interesting abstract and poster at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference discussion the possibility that tidally locked exoplanets might still be habitable. Well, apparently the new Discovery series entitled “The World Without…” is doing an episode about what would happen if the Earth stopped rotating. One of their associate producers contacted me after reading my blog post about tidally locked exoplanets and asked …


12 February 2009

Happy Birthday Darwin!

Mr. Charles Darwin is 200 years old today! Since he’s not around to talk about evolution, I’ll let Carl do it instead: